The Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday after being accused of paying a man for sex in monthly trysts over the past three years.
Haggard also stepped down as head of his 14,000-member New Life Church, which he founded, pending an investigation by a church panel, saying he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations."
The church said that in stepping down, he did not admit wrongdoing.
"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," Haggard said in a written statement. "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."
Haggard, a married father of five, denied the allegations in an interview with KUSA-TV late Wednesday: "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife."
He said he doesn't knnow if the claim is a result of election-year politics or if this has to do with the marriage amendment, of which he is a vocal supporter. The amendment would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and would prohibit gay marriage in the state constitution.
Seven other states are deciding ban-gay-marriage amendments next Tuesday. Besides the proposed ban on the Colorado ballot, a separate measure would establish the legality of domestic partnerships providing same-sex couples with many of the rights of married couples.
Mike Jones, 49, of Denver, told the AP that Haggard paid him to have sex nearly every month over three years. His allegations were first aired on KHOW-AM radio in Denver on Wednesday.
Jones said he had advertised himself as an escort on the Internet and that a man who called himself Art contacted him. Jones said he later saw the man on television identified as Haggard.
He said he last had sex with Haggard in August. He said he did not warn him before making his allegations public this week.
Jones said he has voice mails from Haggard as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash. He declined to make any of it available to the AP.
"There's some stuff on there (the voice mails) that's pretty damning," he said.
Jones told the TV station that he felt compelled to expose someone who was being false to millions of people.
"I just want people to step back and take a look and say, 'Look, we're all sinners, we all have faults, but if two people want to get married, just let them, and let them have a happy life,"' said Jones, who added that he isn't actively working for any political group.
Jones, who said he is gay, said he was also upset when he discovered Haggard and the New Life Church had publicly opposed same-sex marriage.
"It made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex," Jones said.
Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs for the evangelicals' association, expressed shock.
"Is this something I can imagine of Ted Haggard? No," he said.
Carolyn Haggard, spokeswoman for the New Life Church and Haggard's niece, said a four-member church panel will investigate the allegations.
The board is comprised of the Rev. Larry Stockstill in Baker, La., the Rev. Mark Cowart of Colorado Springs, the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur and the Rev. Michael Ware of Westminster. The board has the authority of to discipline Haggard, including removing him from ministry work.
"This is really routine when any sort of situation like this arises, so we're prepared," she said. "The church is going to continue to serve and be welcoming to our community. That's a priority."
Focus on the Family founder and Chairman James C. Dobson, said, "It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation. Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election -- especially the vote on Colorado's marriage-protection amendment -- which Ted strongly supports. He has shown a great deal of grace under these unfortunate circumstances, quickly turning this matter over to his church for an independent investigation. That is a testament to the character I have seen him exhibit over and over again through the years."
Haggard founded the massive New Life Church in the Springs in 1985. According to his biography on his Web site, Haggard has been included in Time Magazine's list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. Harper's Magazine says, "No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted," according to Haggard's biography.
He has participated in conservative Christian leaders' conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court appointees after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement.
A Thursday afternoon press conference called by church leaders to show support for Haggard was canceled shortly before it was scheduled to start.
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